- Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de
- (1547-1616)With the possible exception of the dramatist Lope de Vega, Cervantes was the greatest literary figure of the Golden Age of Spanish literature. He is world famous as the author of the two-part comic novel, Don Quixote (1605, 1615). Although born in the university town of Alcalá de Henares, he was unable to secure a higher education because of his family's poverty. In 1569 Cervantes fled to Italy in order to avoid having a hand amputated as punishment for involvement in a brawl. He became a member of the household of a Spanish cardinal at Rome and in 1570 enlisted in the Spanish army. He fought heroically in the famous naval victory over the Turks at Lepanto (1571) but was wounded and lost the use of his left hand. Returning to Spain by sea in 1575, he and his brother were captured by Moorish pirates and sold into slavery at Algiers. He had to remain in captivity until 1580, when he finally was able to purchase his liberty. He started writing toward the end of his captivity, producing a memoir of his resistance and his attempts to escape. Eventually he won appointment to the unglamorous job of tax collector, a difficult task that twice got him arrested on suspicion of embezzlement.Cervantes began writing plays and in 1585 published a pastoral romance, La Galatea. He married in 1584 but had no legitimate children, and his effort to secure a government position in the American colonies failed. Not until 1605, when he published the first part of Don Quixote at age 58, did Cervantes win recognition as an author. He followed the royal court to Madrid in 1606 and spent the rest of his life there. He published many works during this period, including a dozen short prose narratives, a long autobiograpical poem, eight plays and eight interludes (none of which were produced on stage), and the second part of Don Quixote. His widow published his romance Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda in 1617.Don Quixote was by far Cervantes' most successful work, a favorite among Spanish readers for many centuries, and later translations won an international following. Its satirical attacks on the fashion for preposterous tales of chivalry, its memorable characters (especially Don Quixote himself and his squire Sancho Panza), its varied pictures of the life of Spanish people, and its long series of amusing episodes guaranteed its popularity among the masses, while its subtle discussion of the distinction between reality and illusion has intrigued more sophisticated readers.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.